Comparison of “Big Five” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers | Bullion Dealer Reviews

Comparison of “Big Five” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers

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SUMMARY

I’ve chosen to focus on ten main areas in my Comparison of “Big 5” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers (April 28, 2014). Allow me to point to each in summary and provide highlights pertaining to each. Needless to say, you the consumer should make up your own mind pertaining to which company or companies rank the highest:

1. Experience and Size: Please note that we are talking strictly of numismatic and precious metals experience, not support, marketing, etc. SilverTowne has the most experience in terms of years in business (65 years) and their website was launched in 1998, 6 years before any other competitor in this comparison. SilverTowne and ModernCoinMart (MCM) score the highest marks in terms of ownership disclosure, while the other companies/dealers, especially APMEX and Gainesville, seem to deliberately keep ownership a secret which as private companies may be their right but makes you wonder nonetheless. SilverTowne and MCM, with MCM in the lead, also lead the group when it comes to the combined industry related experience of their staff, which based on my research is respectively 200+ and 225+ years as an approximation. In addition, only MCM and SilverTowne seem to have PNG members on their staff. PNG has strict standards for membership and all members agree to binding arbitration when needed. APMEX scores the highest when it comes to the number of employees (100+) and takes a second place when it comes to years in business (15 years). MCM seems to be the only company in the comparison that has published numismatic authors on staff, namely John Maben and Charles D. Daughtrey. Jan Chalfant is the author of “Rare Coins, Rare People” which is a biography of Leon and Ruhama Hendrickson. However, I am unable to confirm whether Jan is a SilverTowne staff member. 

2. Customer Service: APMEX, Gainesville and MCM are in the lead with their BBB Ratings of A+, but MCM is the clear winner with their zero complaints received. This while all dealers are BBB accredited, except SilverTowne. APMEX and MCM are in the lead with their eBay Feedback Scores. MCM is the leader in this category with their eBay Feedback Score of 201,065 and 99.9%, which is well above that of any of their competitors. MCM is the only company that is open 7 days per week to serve customers via telephone. Gainesville, MCM and SilverTowne are the only companies that allow order pickups, while Gainesville and SilverTowne are the only companies that allow walk-in visitors (at their showrooms).

3. Consumer Protection: APMEX and SilverTowne provide eBay Buyer Protection and PayPal Buyer Protection to US customers, while Gainesville and Provident provide no protection in this regard. MCM is the only company that provides protection to both domestic and foreign customers in all categories, namely eBay Buyer Protection, PayPal Buyer Protection and Personal Info Protection. All of the companies protect your information by not sharing with third parties except SilverTowne per their Privacy Policy (see footnote 7). This is a big concern for many.

4. Prices And Discounts: Modern Coin Mart is the only company with a Published Price Matching policy in place and that utilizes “all in” pricing where the price you see is the price you will pay (in terms of domestic orders). They have no hidden fees and cost of shipping is included in all their prices on a permanent basis. All companies provide volume discounts, except SilverTowne, while all companies offer frequent sales and specials primarily via signing up at their websites.

5. Ordering: All companies offer online order availability 24/7, 365 days. APMEX, MCM and SilverTowne are the only companies that accept eBay orders, while Provident doesn’t accept eBay orders at all and Gainesville coins is currently inactive in this regard. All companies accept orders by phone. All companies, except APMEX, have no minimum order amounts tied to orders (except when it comes to certain methods of payment). APMEX has high minimum order amounts, relative to the other companies, that affects all payment methods. All companies have no maximum order amounts in place, except when it comes to certain forms of payment.

6. Payment Methods: APMEX, MCM and SilverTowne are the only companies that accept PayPal, while MCM is the only company that accepts payment from both domestic and foreign PayPal accounts. All companies accept credit cards, but only MCM and SilverTowne do so when it comes to foreign-based credit cards. All companies accept wire transfers and check/money orders (domestic), except Gainesville, who doesn’t accept check/money orders at all. Most companies don’t accept cash as payment, except Gainesville and SilverTowne, who do accept cash as payment in their showrooms.

7. Shipping: Modern Coin Mart is the only company that offers free domestic shipping on a permanent basis, without customers having to spend extra to qualify for free shipping, having to place minimum orders or having to choose from a limited selection of items. All companies offer international shipping, but most limit international shipping to Australia, Canada and Europe. MCM was first to offer a truly global reach and still leads the pack shipping to 70+ countries. APMEX has high minimum international order amounts in place ($250-$1500) relative to other companies, while MCM has no minimum order amounts in place, except when payment is made via international wire transfer (minimum $300).

8. Returns & Cancellations: No companies accept returns on bullion in the truest sense of the word (see footnote ***). All companies accept returns and cancellations of non-bullion items, but Gainesville has a 2-day return policy and on NGC/PCGS certified PF70 and MS70 coins only. This while both APMEX and Provident charge cancellation fees ($35). Provident is the only company that accepts cancellations via email. This while all companies accept cancellations via phone, except Provident.

9.  Other Products/Services: All of the companies offer, beside bullion, collectible coins for sale in varying degrees. MCM is out in front as this was their primary focus since 2004 and until precious metals became an even larger part of what they do. Provident expands their product line to diamonds and survival gear.  SilverTowne is the only company that offers non-eBay auction services. All of the companies offer some form of alert for items returning to stock, except SilverTowne. Provident does their own custom minting for certain products, but SilverTowne is the only company that offers custom minting services on their terms to anyone with an established account. All companies offer some form of market updates or commentary, but APMEX leads the way by far in this area. APMEX and Provident are the only two companies that offer pre-set market alerts, while APMEX and Gainesville are the only two companies that offer precious metals storage options. APMEX, MCM and Provident are the only companies that assist with the opening of self-directed IRA accounts. SilverTowne is the only company that offers precious metals assay services.

10. Social Media Presence: APMEX has the most Facebook likes (59,044), while MCM has the second most (43,343). APMEX also has the most twitter followers (17,400) followed by Gainesville (1,942). All the companies have Google+ and LinkedIn profiles, while only MCM has a community board, dubbed MCF accessible from their website or via the ModernCoins.com domain. All companies have YouTube accounts. APMEX takes the lead with a 1,814 YouTube subscribers and SilverTowne follows in second with 787 subscribers.

WHY FOCUS ONLY ON THE “BIG 5” ONLINE COIN & PRECIOUS METALS DEALERS?

One of the primary reasons for focusing only on the “Big 5” online coin & precious metals dealers is because these are the dealers that have, potentially and otherwise, the most substantial impact on the online precious metals marketplace and/or industry. Thus, if one is hoping to make a positive difference by equipping customers with the knowledge required to make informed decisions when it comes to choosing the right coin & precious metals dealer, it makes a lot of sense to have the primary focus on the “Big 5” where the biggest impact can potentially be made.

It should of course be noted that these 5 dealers only represent my interpretation of the “Big 5” and others might feel different as to who should be among the group. One could of course expand this list beyond the “Big 5”, but I decided against it. I provide my reasons for doing so below.

Furthermore, it should be no secret that coin & precious metals dealers are driven by large volume earmarked by very small profit margins. Common sense dictates that in order to create the kind of volume that is required to be counted as one of the “Big 5”, you’ve got to have multiple value plays on the table that resonates with customers, existing and potential, on various levels. Thus, you have to attract and retain a large number of customers and in order to do that you have to make it worth their while. Consumers for most part are not going to part with their hard-earned money if you in return fail to place something of equal or greater value on the table. 

It should therefore come as no surprise that the primary aim of my Comparison of “Big 5” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers is to make it easier for consumers to identify the value plays, not only the best value for money in terms of monetary savings, but also in terms of components such as customer service, etc. Added value plays may include, but are not limited to: Free shipping, competitive prices, flexible payment options, frequent giveaways and discounts, 24/7 online order availability, online real time sales, fair return & cancellation policies, international shipping, etc.

Given the above, it should be clear that any such value plays are not only about competitive prices. However, it should be safe to say that competitive pricing is a critical component of any such value play. This is part of why I’ve decided to only focus on the “Big 5” online coin & precious metals dealers, because it makes sense that the “Big 5” didn’t get to be big by over-pricing. In fact, in my experience, smaller dealers are far more likely to price something too high than the larger dealers. This is of course not always the case, but I’ve found it to be the case in the majority of instances.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that there is often a correlation between the size of a coins & precious metals dealer and competitive pricing. Needless to say, this is something that was strongly considered in my decision to only focus on the “Big 5” online coin & precious metals dealers.

Another aspect taken into consideration is the fact that quality of goods and services should rank as #1, meaning from the outset, I decided to only focus on my interpretation of the most recognized, if not the cream of the crop in the industry. I am of the opinion that it saves a great deal of time, and while I’d like to nudge consumers in the right direction, I don’t wish to do so in a forceful or overbearing manner. The idea is to leave ample room where consumers can do their own due diligence, which is of critical importance. This doesn’t take away from the fact that it is my sincere hope that consumers will use my Comparison of “Big 5” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers as a basis of comparison when it comes to choosing the right online coin & precious metals dealer.

With that said, this is one of the reasons why I have deliberately chosen not to rank the given coin & precious metals bullion dealers from Best to Worst (or anything along those lines) as seen in some comparisons that others have done. I wish to leave it up to the consumer to do so. The aim is after all to equip the consumer with knowledge required (and believed to be accurate by me without any guarantee of such accuracy) to make a more informed decision; nothing more and nothing less. It is also the very reason why the majority of the criteria used in my comparison are made up of objective components, not components that can be influenced by the subjective, such as emotion and such. 

A partial list of reasons why some other companies were not in my “Big 5” includes:

1) Bad track records.

2) Little or no track records (not in business long enough).

3) Utilization of hard selling tactics.

4) Over use of “teaser” offerings with the primary goal being customer acquisition and subsequent offerings to be higher margin products.

5) No disclosure of ownership in combination with other concerns.

6) Lower visibility than the 5 in this comparison.

7) Named executives/principals that as far as I can see do not have a well-known background of industry experience.

Consumers can also use my Comparison of “Big 5” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers as a basis of comparison when they wish to determine whether an online coin & precious metals dealer, which falls outside my selection, is up to par or not. This can be done by utilizing information that should be freely available at the relevant dealer websites in comparison to what I have on the table. Needless to say, in cases where the relevant information is not freely available, it might rightly be taken as a point of concern. It is after all no secret that some coin & precious metals dealers deliberately choose not to be upfront with consumers because substance is lacking and the hope is that manufactured appearance can make up for that.

I believe most consumers will choose to only do business with coin & precious metals dealers that are open and honest in their dealings with the public. Ultimately, each person makes their own decisions, and I am not standing in anyone’s way to do further research and expand my comparison beyond the “Big 5”. In fact, it is something I strongly encourage.

We all have our individual beliefs as to what is most important in choosing who we do business with. For me, experience and track record trumps all else. Track record is relatively easy to ascertain in this day of the internet but experience can be a bit more tricky. One cannot assume that more staff equals more experience. When you get right down to it in buying coins and bullion the experience that matters most comes from having seasoned coin & precious metals traders and recognized Numismatists on staff, not support personnel that could just as easily be working for a company that sells widgets.

Note to owners or officers of companies/dealers that are in the comparison: You are welcome to contact me with corrections, but any such requests must be backed by verifiable information. Kindly include such information when you contact me and make sure you contact me via an official company email source, otherwise your request(s) will be ignored. In addition, I have not been paid by anyone to publish the comparison and I am not affiliated with any of the companies listed. The cutoff date for changes will be June 2nd, 2014. However, if I receive enough good feedback from collectors, stackers, and investors, I will continue updating information periodically- perhaps twice per year. 

EXPLANATION OF TERMS AND CRITERIA USED

1. Experience And Size:

Years in Business: The number of years in business/operation.

Disclosed Ownership: Who owns the company? Is this disclosed by the company or obvious? This is important information. If owners hide this information, you have to ask yourself why. If they come from outside the business you should know, because it reflects their level of industry specific knowledge and expertise.

Number of Employees: Total number of employees employed (guesstimate).

Website Launched: Year in which website was launched. The WayBackMachine (internet archive) was used to determine this and only the primary domain names or URLs in current use were considered in terms of each company.

Staff Experience: Combined industry experience of members of staff expressed in years (guesstimate).

PNG Members On Staff: Are there any PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) members on permanent staff?

ANA Members on Staff: Are there any ANA (American Numismatic Association) members on permanent staff?

Published Numismatic Authors on Staff: How many published numismatic authors are on the company’s staff? Books must have ISBN numbers for authors to be recognized.

2. Customer Service:

BBB Rating: Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating on April 28th, 2014.

BBB Accredited: Is the company accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)?

eBay Feedback Score: What is the overall eBay feedback score?

Open 7 Days a Week: Is the company/dealership open 7 days a week?

Order Pickup Available: If yes, by appointment only and only on certain days?

Walk-In Visitors Allowed: Are walk-in or unscheduled visitors allowed?

3. Consumer Protection:

eBay Buyer Protection: Yes, no or inactive (when there is nothing listed for sale at eBay). Consumer protection is of relevance here when purchases are made via eBay.

PayPal Buyer Protection: Consumer protection is of relevance here when purchases are made via PayPal.

Personal Info Protection: Privacy Policy – Personal information protected or shared with other companies?

4. Prices and Discounts:

Published Price Matching Policy: Is there a published price matching or price beat policy in place?

What You See Is What You Pay (WYSIWYP): The price you see is the price you will pay. No hidden fees and the cost of shipping is included in all prices.

Volume Discounts: Does the company offer volume discounts?

Sales & Specials: Does the company offer sales & specials?

5. Ordering:

Online Order Availability: Is online ordering available 24/7 or only during certain times? Customers must be able to buy without having to pick up a phone or send a fax.

eBay Orders: Does the company accept orders via eBay? If they do accept offers via eBay, but don’t have products listed for sale at eBay, it will be marked as “inactive”. 

Orders by Phone: Do customers have the option to place orders via phone?

Minimum Order (USD): If yes, what is the minimum order amount per transaction (if available)?

6. Payment Methods:

Paypal: Subdivided in “Domestic” and “Foreign”.

Credit Cards: Subdivided in “Domestic” and “Foreign”.

Wire Transfers: Subdivided in “Domestic” and “Foreign”.

Checks/Money Orders: Does the company accept checks/money orders as a form of payment?

Cash: Does the company accept cash as a form of payment?

7. Shipping:

Free Domestic Shipping: Does the relevant dealer provide free domestic shipping on a permanent basis, without customers having to spend extra to qualify for free shipping, having to place minimum orders or having to choose from a limited selection of items?

International Shipping: Does the company offer international shipping?

8. Returns & Cancellations:

Returns on Bullion: In reference to returns on bullion not subject to penalty or market loss policy – see footnote ***

Non-Bullion items: Does the company accept returns and cancellations on non-bullion items?

Cancellations by Email: Does the company accept cancellations via email?

Cancellations by Phone: Does the company accept cancellations via phone?

9. Other Products/Services: 

Other Products: Subdivided in “Collectible Coins” and “Other”.

Other Services: Subdivided in “Auction Services (Non-eBay)”, “Back in Stock Notification”, “Custom Minting Services”, “Daily Market Updates/Commentary”, “Pre-set Market Movement Alerts”, “Precious Metals Storage Options” and “Other”.

10. Social Media Presence:

Facebook

Twitter

Google+

LinkedIn

YouTube

Community Boards

ABBREVIATIONS USED

APMEX = American Precious Metals Exchange

Gainesville = Gainesville Coins

MCM = ModernCoinMart

Provident = Provident Metals

DISCLAIMER

The information used was believed to be accurate as of April 28th, 2014, but is not guaranteed. No investment advice is offered or intended to be given and no liability will be accepted in respect thereof. You are urged to take independent advice. The owners or officers of companies/dealers that are in the comparison are welcome to contact me with corrections, but any such requests must be backed by verifiable information. Kindly include such information when you contact me and make sure you contact me via an official company email source, otherwise your request(s) will be ignored. In addition, I have not been paid by anyone to publish the comparison and I am not affiliated with any of the companies listed. The cutoff date for changes will be June 2nd, 2014. However, if I receive enough good feedback from collectors, stackers, and investors, I will continue updating information periodically- perhaps twice per year. 

* All of the numbers in terms of experience and size are guesstimates as I was not comfortable asking each for information that could be considered confidential.

** From what I could gather it seems that Provident Metals is owned by NTR Metals of which the parent company is DGSE Companies, Inc. In addition, both DGSE Companies and NTR Metals seem to be principal holdings of Elemental, a global precious metals conglomerate based in Dallas, Texas. This while the ProvidentMetals.com website, in terms of ownership, only states that ProvidentMetals.com is “…a subsidiary of Provident Precious Metals, LLC…” (ProvidentMetals.com). This makes it difficult at best to establish the number of employees that are employed by the Provident Metals division. If I have misstated any of this, Provident Metals is welcome to send me a correction.

*** This is in reference to returns on bullion not subject to penalty or market loss policy. Some dealers through clever wording leave the false impression that they’re offering returns on bullion. This while they’re in reality not accepting returns on bullion, but are buying back the bullion. This is despite the fact that some limit the buyer’s loss. Thus, if the market drops and you have to pay the difference, it is essentially a “buy back” not a “return”. The reality is that virtually all coin & precious metals dealers handle it as a “buy back” and it should be correctly stated as such. Some companies will exchange any item for the exact same item. E.g. ModernCoinMart (MCM) will exchange any item for the exact same item providing it is in stock.

4 Based on APMEX’s recommendations when it comes to payment options and/or methods.

5 Technically and officially the order minimum of Provident Metals is $1, but this is so low that it can be seen as no minimum at all for the purposes of the above comparison.

6 Gainesville Coins had no products listed for sale at eBay when this was measured on April 28th, 2014.

7 The following is clearly stated in the Privacy Policy of SilverTowne: “From time to time we might establish a business relationship with other persons or entities whom we believe trustworthy and whom we have asked to confirm that their privacy policies are consistent with ours. These are known as our Marketing Partners. In the course of such business relationships we might share and cross-reference information, including personally identifiable information about you, that will enable such persons or entities to contact you regarding products and services that may be of interest to you” (April 28th, 2014).

8 They mint some products for their own use, but I could find no evidence of offering the service to others.

9 First website was launched as www.johnmaben.com in 2004.

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9 Responses to Comparison of “Big Five” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers

  1. Wazza says:

    Nice summary.
    I feel some of your info isn’t fair or accurate regarding APMEX.
    “International Shipping – Canada, Europe, Australia”
    A quick look at their site will show that they also delivery rather extensively to Asia (Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and others). They also mention that they deliver to many other countries not listed. MCM, “says delivers to over 70 countries” but only mentions 41 by name.
    Additionally, you take time to mention “Extremely high minimum order” but don’t feel it necessary to mention that their International Shipping is significantly lower than others (MCM, the only other “International” competitor”).
    Lastly, I’d like to see an average price comparison. Perhaps take a basket of some of the most popular items (silver eagles, gold eagles, maples, etc) and average the prices out over a year, so we can see where we’re likely to find the best value for money.
    But overall, I appreciate your work.

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    • Admin says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated.

      My idea was not to include a full list of countries in terms of international shipping, mainly due to space constrains and a lack of information publicly available. I specifically decided against including Asia and New Zealand in the case of APMEX, because I feel then I have to do the same for MCM and it can then easily become an exercise in futility. The truth is that the information presented in terms of international shipping might not be 100% fair to both APMEX and MCM to some extent or another. E.g. in addition to the points mentioned in your comment, no mention was made of the fact that MCM ships to Canada, Europe + Australia (while a mention was made of it in the case of APMEX). Thus, it is my sincere hope that both will respond with additional information. APMEX will have to be more specific in terms of the number of countries they ship to and ideally both will have to back up their claims by providing a full list of countries they ship to. As I’ve mentioned in my notes pertaining to the comparison, owners or officers of companies/dealers that are in the comparison are welcome to contact me with corrections. Needless to say, I will update the comparison if and/or when APMEX and MCM respond with additional information that meets my requirements (as mentioned in the comparison).

      I need to point out that my aim with the comparison was not really to compare cost or prices (although a noble idea). This is why I make it clear in my notes that the majority of the criteria used in my comparison are made up of objective components. Firstly, I simply don’t have the time or resources to attempt a cost and price comparison (even based on average prices), and secondly, to be brutally honest, I feel that doing that will be a huge move into subjective territory, where it will be relatively easy to either skew figures or to claim that figures have been skewed. This is why my comparison above for most part includes easily verifiable information, and in instances where it is not the case, I feel that I’ve made an attempt to point it out.

      In addition to the above, I have made it abundantly clear that I encourage folks to expand on my comparison. Thus, you’re more than welcome to make a cost and price comparison at the expense of your own time and at your own cost. Are you up for the challenge? 🙂

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  2. kcaven says:

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!

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  3. […] For those of you not familiar with ModernCoinMart, rest assure that you will be in good hands. They not only ship internationally, offer PayPal as a payment method, but also offer free domestic shipping on a permanent basis. To give you an idea of what they offer and who you will be dealing with when you choose to do business with ModernCoinMart: Comparison of “Big Five” Online Coin & Precious Metals Dealers […]

  4. […] chosen to limit my comparison to these two, because they count among the cream of the crop when it comes to online coin & precious metals dealers. In order to keep it fair, I’ve decided to do a like-for-like comparison by taking price and […]

  5. […] Shipping is expected to begin early to mid-December 2014. However, the focus will only be here on the “Big 5” online coin and precious metals dealers here in the States, in alphabetic order: APMEX, Gainesville Coins, ModernCoinMart (MCM) and SilverTowne. Provident […]

  6. […] cost of shipping are important factors to consider, but you also want to consider factors such as experience and size, customer service, customer protection, payment methods, returns & cancellations, […]

  7. Maria says:

    Great article! Thank you for your work, very detailed comparison!
    I’m new in buying bullion coins and I’d like to buy some for my own.
    I recently placed an order for 5 1oz Maple Leaf Gold bullion coins from Apmex. I received my
    order in time about a few days. But after doing some research I found that I could save much money buying from some other dealers. For example, canadian website Atopmex. They offer lower premiums and their prices are more convenient, despite that I live in USA and Apmex delivery is free for me.
    What do you think, can I trust Atopmex? https://atopmex.com/ Maybe you will share your expert opinion about such other dealers?
    Thank you for your time

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    • Admin says:

      I am not familiar with Atopmex. Thanks for the heads up.

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